Edible oil that are considered healthy for cooking and salads are usually extracted from plants using mechanical pressure, heat or chemicals.
They are later processed, refined and packed in disposable containers for commercial and domestic use.
Healthy edible oils from plant sources may contain Omega-3 fatty acids which are considered as an essential fat for health body.
Other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are Fish oil, Cod liver oil and Krill oil.
They also consist of healthy type of fats and are low in unhealthy fats such as trans-fat and saturated fats.
When choosing healthy edible oil, it is important to make sure you know the appropriate storage requirements and how to identify if the oil has turn rancid.
Why is smoke point of oils important?
When you heat a plant based oil like vegetable or seed oil to high temperatures the oil burns with visible smoke making it taste and smell bad. This point is called the smoke point.
Every edible oil or fat has a smoke point temperature beyond which, the oil undergoes structural changes and gets damaged. The oil is considered not safe for human consumption at this point.
Refining or processing edible oil can increase its smoke point drastically. Unfortunately, this process also removes most of the naturally occurring nutrition like vitamins and minerals from the oil.
Knowing the smoke point temperature will help you chose oils as per your cooking requirement.
What is rancid oil?
When oil turns bad it usually generates unpleasant smell or taste and is not considered safe for human consumption anymore.
It is usually not due to bacteria, yeast, molds or other microbes but instead it is due to chemical reactions taking place inside the oil when exposed to air or sunlight (UV). An oil that
Saturated fats are considered unhealthy fats like butter and margarines.
They are more stable at room temperature and are solid at room temperature. They are also stable at high temperature which is good for cooking and less prone to oxidation damage which prevents them from turning rancid easily.
Unsaturated fats are considered healthy fats like olive oil and other vegetable or seed oils.
They consist of mono and polyunsaturated fats which are oil like at room temperature but they are also less stable at room temperature because they are prone to oxidation damage and creation of free radicals making them turn rancid easily.
However, you can slow down the process of unsaturated fats turning rancid by storing them in cool, dry, air tight environments away from sunlight (UV) and heat sources.
Cold pressed oils vs processed oils
To increase the shelf life, edible oils are refined and processed using heat to make them more stable and prevent them from turning rancid easily. The drawback of this procedure is that processing will also remove many of the oil’s healthy nutrients.
For uncooked use and low temperature cooking, always try to use the non-refined and non-processed oil that is extracted using mechanical cold pressing procedures that preservers all the good nutrients in the oil. They are usually sold in dark bottles.
For high temperature cooking, you will need to use refined and processed oil because they are more stable and suitable for high temperature cooking.
We have put together a list of 12 best cooking oils into four sections
Section 1: Salad dressing and uncooked foods
Section 2: Low temperature cooking, baking and light frying (149°C / 300°F -177°C / 350°F)
Section 3: Medium temperature cooking, baking, sautéing and deep frying (177°C / 350°F to 204°C / 400°F)
Section 4: High temperature cooking, baking and grilling (204°C / 400°F - 260°C / 500°F)
Omega 3 and 6 ratios: A perfect Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is in the range of 1:1 to 1:4. The higher the ratio of Omega-6, the less desirable is the oil as a healthy oil.
Safe oil storage technique: In order to extend the shelf life and quality of cooking oils, you need to store them in air tight containers, away from direct sunlight and other heat sources in a cool place.
If you live in very hot and humid location, you may need to store the oil in refrigerator.
Best edible oil for salad dressing and uncooked foods
These oil are suitable for very low heat cooking and use in uncooked dishes like salads. It is best keep the cooking temperatures below 149°C / 300°F to preserve its nutritional benefits.
Unrefined Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is also known as linseed oil and is extracted from the flax plant. It has an unusually low smoke point, so it is not suitable for cooking as heat can easily damage the unrefined flaxseed oil.
It’s a good source of plant based Omega-3 fatty acids and many people take it as a supplement on a regular basis.
Unrefined flaxseed oil is best for: Salads and uncooked use.
Unrefined flaxseed oil Smoke point: A very low 107°C or 225°F
Unrefined flaxseed oil storage: Use safe oil storage techniques and store in dark bottles.
Pros of Unrefined flaxseed oil: It has an excellent Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio at 1:4.
Cons of Unrefined flaxseed oil: It is not recommended for pregnant women.
Extra Virgin Olive oils
It is a monounsaturated fats rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.
Extra Virgin Olive oils is best for: Use in salads and very low heat cooking.
Extra Virgin Olive oils smoke point: Smoke point of premium high quality olive oil is low at 160°C or 320°F, Heating premium olive oil damages the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids even at normal safe cooking temperatures.
Premium Olive oil, is not suitable for high temperature cooking because the omega-3 fatty acids are neutralized and at this point olive oils provide no additional benefits over cheap cooking oils like sunflower oil.
Olive oil is one of the major component of Mediterranean diet, which is considered as one of the healthiest diet in the world. Read more about other components of Mediterranean Diet: 11 Secrets of the Mediterranean Diet for a healthy and longer life
Extra Virgin Olive oil storage: To prevent olive oil from turning rancid, you need to store it in conditions similar to storing wine, that is cool and dark place, away from sunlight and moisture.
You need to store it in an airtight container like its original packing with the lid closed. Once you open the olive oil bottle and expose it to air, you need to use it within 6 months, while its still fresh.
Pros of Extra Virgin Olive oil: It is rich in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids which is considered as an essential fatty acid. It also has Omega-6 which is another essential fatty acid.
Cons of Extra Virgin Olive oil: High quality olive oil is very expensive. Some people may not like the specific odor and taste of olive oils. Storage requirements are high. Premium quality olive oil is very delicate with short shelf life and can easily turn rancid if not stored properly.
Hemp seed Oil
Hempseed oil is extracted from the seeds of hemp with is an industrial variety of the cannabis plant. It is recommended as a superfood by many nutrition experts and is popular in eastern cultures.
Hemp seed oil is best for: Salads and low temperature cooking.
Hemp seed oil Smoke point: 165°C or 330°F
Hemp seed oil storage: Use safe oil storage techniques and store in dark bottles.
Pros of Hemp seed oil: It has an excellent Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio at 1:3. It also rich in various vitamins and minerals.
Cons of Hemp seed oil: There is some prejudice around hemp seed oil because of its close association with the cannabis plant even though hempseed oil has nothing to do with the psychoactive elements present in cannabis.
Other options: Unrefined walnut oil, unrefined soy oil, unrefined peanut oil, unrefined high-oleic sunflower oil.
Best cooking oil for low temperature cooking, baking and light frying
The best temperature for deep frying and sautéing is between 149°C / 300°F -177°C / 350°F. Anything above this range, you run the risk of burning your food and if you reduce the heat below this range you may end up with very greasy food.
Advice for reusing or recycling frying oil
Healthy fats or oils when subjected to high temperatures over an extended period of time can get damaged by developing free radicals and trans-fats.
Commercially available fried foods may contain very high amounts of trans fats because the oil is reused multiple times before its changed.
Most sensitive to heat damage are unsaturated oils like olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil etc. You may be able to filter out burnt food particles from the food using a good filter, but you cannot do anything about the damaged oil itself. So it is better to start with fresh oil for the next time.
Organic butter from pasture raised and grass fed cows are good source of good calories that are easily used up by the body and not sored as fat deposits.
Best for: Baking and medium temperature cooking
Smoke point: 177°C or 350°F
Storage: You don’t really need to refrigerate butter to preserver it for short term use. You can just store it at room temperature in a closed container, away from source of heat and sunlight. This way you can enjoy the smooth and soft texture of butter without out worrying about it going rancid.
Pros of butter: It is very stable and does not easily turn rancid.
Cons of butter: It is a saturated fat and should not be used in excess on a regular basis.
Semi-Refined Canola Oil
Semi-Refined Canola oil is best for: Medium temperature baking and cooking
Semi-Refined Canola oil smoke point: 177°C or 350°F
Semi-Refined Canola oil storage: No special requirements, use safe oil storage technique.
Pros of Semi-Refined Canola oil: It has an excellent Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio at 1:2 and is a rich source of Omega-9 fatty acids.
Cons of Semi-Refined Canola oil: Majority of canola oil is extracted using GMO canola plant. There are some health concerns circulating in the nutrition community regarding the safety of canola oil. More research is required at this point to support these concerns.
It is a saturated fat and is solid at room temperature. Apart from its dietary use, it is also used as a therapeutic oil for skin and hair with good results.
Coconut Oil is best for: Medium temperature baking and cooking
Coconut Oil Smoke point: 177°C or 350°F
Coconut Oil Storage: No special requirements, use safe oil storage technique. Depending on the surrounding temperature, coconut oil may become solid at room temperature.
Pros of coconut oil: 50% of the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil consist of lauric acid which has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-protozoal properties.
Cons of coconut oil: It is a saturated fat and should not be used in excess on a regular basis.
Caution: Coconut oil has one of the highest concentration of saturated fats among any other edible oils available in the market. It consists of 90% saturated fat, which is higher than the saturated fat content in butter (64%) and red meats (40%).
Research has shown clear evidence linking a diet high in saturated fats and cardiovascular diseases. Coconut oil tends to increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, but what is surprising is it also tends to increase the good cholesterol (HDL) levels better than many other oils because of lauric acid.
Maybe, this is the reason a lot of nutrition experts seems to be recommending coconut oil as a healthy oil for dietary uses in recent years.
Before you switch to coconut oil, you should understand the possible side effects of coconut oil and it is important to mention that more research and clinical trials are required at this point to confirm any possible benefits associated with coconut oil use.
Expert advice on Coconut Oil: Walter C. Willett, M.D. from department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health says “for now, I’d use coconut oil sparingly”
Other option: Semi refined soy oil.
Best cooking oil for medium temperature cooking, baking, sautéing and deep frying
These oil are suitable for medium heat cooking and baking in the range of 177°C / 350°F to 204°C / 400°F.
Refined Canola Oil
Canola oil is best for: Sautéing and deep frying
Canola oil smoke point: 204°C or 400°F
Canola oil storage: No special requirements, use safe oil storage technique.
Pros of canola oil: It has an excellent Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio at 1:3
Cons of canola oil: GMO variants
Olive Pomace Oil
It is a cheaper variant of olive oil made by leftover pulp after extracting virgin olive oil. Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio may differ in pomace oil among different manufactures.
Olive pomace oil is best for: Sautéing and deep frying
Olive Pomace Oil smoke point: 238°C or 460°F
Olive pomace oil storage: No special requirements, use safe oil storage technique.
Pros of olive pomace oil: It is rich in Omega-9 fatty acids.
Cons of olive pomace oil: Some people may not like the smell and flavor of olive pomace oil in friend food items.
Refined Sunflower oil
It is made from the seeds of sunflower plant and one of the most popular cooking oil used around the world.
Sunflower oil is best for: Sautéing and deep frying
Sunflower oil smoke point: 227°C or 440°F
Sunflower oil storage: No special requirements, use safe oil storage technique.
Pros of sunflower oil: Its very cheap, easily available and very easy to store. It has an acceptable amounts of vitamin E
Cons of sunflower oil: It has a bad Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio at 1:40
Other options: Macadamia nut oil, Semi refined walnut oil, Almond oil, Hazelnut oil.
Best Cooking Oil for high temperature cooking, baking and grilling
Cooking food at high temperatures can destroy many of the good nutrients inside the food.
For high temperature cooking, baking and grilling you need to choose an oil that has the highest smoke point and can withstand these high temperatures in the range of 204°C / 400°F - 260°C / 500°F without getting damaged.
Rice Bran Oil
It is a very versatile and balanced oil extracted from the outer layer of rice grain know as rice husk. It is popular in Asian countries.
Rice Bran Oil is best for: Almost everything like salads, low, medium and high temperature cooking.
Rice Bran Oil Smoke point: 254°C or 490°F
Rice Bran Oil storage: No special requirements, use safe oil storage technique.
Pros of Rice Bran Oil: It has a very mild flavor and is rich in vitamin E, antioxidants and balanced amounts of good fats. It also has a good Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio at 1:21
Cons of Rice Bran Oil: Might be difficult to find in traditional grocery stores. Some people might not like the taste of rice bran oil when used as a salad dressing or other uncooked foods.
Refined Safflower Oil
It is extracted from the seeds of safflower plant. The plant is cultivated in hot areas that receive seasonal rainfalls.
Safflower Oil is best for: Deep frying, High temperature baking and grilling.
Safflower Oil Smoke point: 266°C or 510°F
Safflower Oil storage: No special requirements, use safe oil storage technique.
Pros of Safflower Oil: Monounsaturated safflower oil is an odorless and transparent oil with almost no flavor. High in Omega-9 fatty acids.
Cons of Safflower Oil: It lacks vitamin E which is helpful in removing free radicals from the body. It has a very bad Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio at 1:133
Some studies have shown that safflower oil might not be good for individuals with the risk of stroke, heart and kidney diseases.
It is a very versatile oil extracted from pulp of avocado fruit. It is a great tasting oil with numerous health benefits and is packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Avocado oil has an unusually high smoke point compared to all other cooking oils.
Avocado oil is best for: Almost everything like salads, low, medium and high temperature cooking.
Avocado oil Smoke point: 270°C or 520°F, Slightly lower for Extra Virgin Avocado oil at 249 °C or 480 °F
Avocado oil storage: Use safe oil storage techniques and store in dark bottles.
Pros of Avocado oil: It offers almost the same nutrition benefits of olive oil with a better taste when used in salads. It’s very stable at high temperatures cooking and frying. High in Vitamin E, monounsaturated fats and omega-9 fatty acids. It also has a good Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio at 1:12
Cons of Avocado oil: It is still not popular among the general population, so it may be difficult to find at your local grocery store. It slightly more expensive when compared to other options.
Note: If you chose to use avocado oil in salads, then look for Extra Virgin Avocado Oil that is minimally processed.
Other options: Soybean Oil, Mustard oil, Clarified butter.